Bastille Day · French Culture · Holidays · Uncategorized

20 Bastille Day Facts

imageI think it’s really important, if we’re going to integrate well, to learn something of our new home. So today’s festivities had me swotting up on a little French history. Hope you find something interesting amongst my 20 facts.

  1. Bastille Day has been celebrated since 1790 and became a French National Holiday in 1880. This may seem odd, considering the bloody history that Bastille Day itself sparked, but what is being celebrated is the birth of the Republic (formed in 1792) and the associated concepts of Libert, Equality and Fraternity.
  2. The Bastille itself was built in the 14th Century as a fortress to defen Eastern Paris from an English attack during the 100 years war. However , it was captured by the forces of Henry ‘Band of Brothers’ V, and used as a prison. Following this period it was of course returned to the French.
  3. The Bastille was forced on 14th July , 1789. It contained only seven elderly prisoners; these included four forgers, two ‘lunatics’ and one ‘deviant’ aristocrat.
  4. The aristocrat was not, as one might suppose, the Marquis de Sade. He had been transferred to an insane asylum just prior to he Bastille’s storming. There was high tension due to food shortages in all of France and the military governor of the Bastille, Bernard-René Jordan de Launay, feared that it would be a target for the and had requested reinforcements. The Marquis de Sade had attempted to incite a crowd outside his window in response to this political tension by yelling: “They are massacring the prisoners; you must come and free them.” Hence he had to go!
  5. The prison also did not contain Voltaire, who had previously been an inmate.
  6. Ninety-eight attackers and one defender died in the fighting – the Bastille’s governor, Bernard-René de Launay, was killed and his head displayed around Paris on a spike.
  7. By the summer of 1789 France, ruled by King Louis XVI with his queen Marie Antionette, suffered severe food shortages. In June, the Third Estate, which represented commoners and the lower clergy, declared itself the National Assembly and called for the drafting of a constitution. Louis legalized the National Assembly, but then surrounded Paris with troops and dismissed Jacques Necker, a popular minister of state who had supported reforms.
  8. Mobs began rioting in Paris at the instigation of revolutionary leaders.
  9. De Launay had received a company of Swiss mercenary soldiers on July 7 in response to his request and on July 12 250 barrels of gunpowder were transferred to the Bastille from the Paris Arsenal, which was more vulnerable to attack. De Launay raised its two drawbridges with his men inside the Bastille.
  10. On July 13, mobs stormed the Paris Arsenal and another armory and acquired thousands of muskets.
  11. At dawn on July 14, a great crowd armed with muskets, swords, and various makeshift weapons began to gather around the Bastille.De Launay, having received one delegation of revolutionary leaders, refused to surrender the fortress and its munitions to a second. He promised them he would not open fire on the crowd and showed them that his cannons were not loaded. Instead of calming them a group of men, confident of no retaliation, climbed over the outer wall of the courtyard and lowered drawbridge.
  12. Three hundred revolutionaries rushed in. When the mob outside began trying to lower the second drawbridge, Launay ordered his men to open fire. One hundred rioters were killed or wounded.
  13. However, more and more Parisians were converging on the Bastille. Around 3 p.m., even a company of deserters from the French joined them. The soldiers dragged five cannons into the courtyard and aimed them at the Bastille. Launay surrendered; he and and his men were taken into custody. The gunpowder and cannons were seized, the seven prisoners of the Bastille were freed and De Launey met his fate.
  14. On hearing of the incident the King asked “Is it a revolt?” He was told “No sire, it’s a revolution.”
  15.  Joined by four-fifths of the French army and with the weaponry they needed the revolutionaries seized control of Paris and then the French countryside, forcing King Louis XVI to accept a constitutional government.
  16. In 1792, the monarchy was abolished and ‘The Reign of Terror’ ensued in which many aristocrats were executed. Louis and his wife Marie-Antoinette were sent to the guillotine for treason in 1793.
  17. Bastille Day is celebrated in Paris with a military parade on the Champs Elysees imagecalled the Bastille Day Military Parade. It ends at the Arc de Triomphe, as this is the monument that honors those who died while fighting for France during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.
  18. Most municipalities in France celebrate Bastille Day beginning with a Mayoral speech. This is often followed by a war memorial wreath-laying as well as fireworks, dances, music and food.
  19. In 2004 British servicemen celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale by taking part in the National Bastille Day Parade in Paris for the first time and some embers have been sent to represent Britain each year.
  20. The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, was penned by army engineer Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle during the French revolutionary wars in 1792. It reflects the period in history and, like everything, sounds so much prettier in French. To give you a taste of it the first verse and chorus can be translated as;

Let’s go children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody flag is raised! (repeat)
In the countryside, do you hear
The roaring of these fierce soldiers?
They come right to our arms
To slit the throats of our sons, our friends!


Grab your weapons, citizens!
Form your batallions!
Let us march! Let us march!
May impure blood
Water our fields!




Catholic · French Culture · Uncategorized

5 Cultural Differences Between France And The U.K.

Many of these cultural differences have been written about elsewhere and, as my parents have lived in France for the last ten years, my frequent visits have meant that I’ve felt that I knew the French way of life. However, this last visit has brought those differences between the two cultures into focus as we prepare to move to France in less than eleven weeks.

Sundays and Lunchtimes

I did say some of these have been written about many times before – but the upcomingimage move has meant that I’m more aware of it. Apart from the bakers that are open for a short time after mass and the Carrefour express in the town centre everything is shut on a Sunday. It reminds me of Sunday’s as a child. Driving down the road you’re struck by the stillness present.

This isn’t just a religious ‘Be still and know that I am God’ thing either. It means that families truly have time to be together. In the UK we don’t live very far from our family, but as everyone is always working there is little or no time to get together. I haven’t seen most of my family since Christmas because of this. When you add marital breakdown and blended families into the mix it makes things far more difficult.

We met two groups of English people this Sunday and both remarked at how different the Sunday culture was in astonishment. We’re so used to a non-stop consumer culture that being met with quiet is a shock.

Despite the small inconvenience though this is actually something I’m really pleased about. Perhaps having family here makes a difference, but that time to bond and come together is something I hope we’ll treasure.

I’ve put lunchtimes in this category because the stillness at lunch is also palpable. Driving into town after 12 o’clock I’m struck by how few people are around and in the supermarkets, on the whole, you only seem to hear English voices.

The Politeness

Again I’ve read many books and blogs that have talked about the politeness of France and experienced it firsthand, but the everyday reality of it is starting to hit home. This isn’t a criticism, I was just unaware how some of those social niceties had slipped.

I’m always polite in the sense I say please and thankyou, and expect my children to do the same. I would say that I have the demeanour of someone who is friendly. Yet the custom of greeting each person before you start a transaction with a simple ‘bonjour monsieur’ or ‘madame’ had caught me out a few times. Partly because I’ve been so focused on getting the French right, but also because it’s not part of my rhythm of speech.

I actually really like this formality – it is making the point that the person you’re speaking to is of importance, not a side note to your business.

When I first started coming to France I missed this out, even though I knew it was expected, because of shyness. Now though I focus before entering a shop and remind myself, as a priority, to greet each person I’m speaking to with this simple greeting. It’s especially important because, coming to live in a community, means I don’t want to be known as rude – and I especially don’t want my children to be known as rude.

So each time we enter a shop I encourage La Belle Fille to say it too.

Kissing Babies

imageThe French are like American politicians standing for election as president and will kiss any baby or child within close proximity (well, at least any politician going for election prior to our current suspiscion of any man we don’t know).

La Belle Fille, at the tender age of 4, looks at me mortified as her hair is ruffled, her cheeks pinched and she’s kissed and ‘coucou’s are thrown at her in abandon. It is obvious in her expression that she’s not used to it as she has a kind of ‘what’s happening?’ look about her. She’ll get used to it!


I’m British. As anyone who’s watched Bridget Jones knows – we like to drink and we swear a lot. At least my generation anyway. Swearing has almost, unfortunately, become a form of punctuation.

In the 90s there was an emergence of what was called ladette culture and to behave like rowdy young men became de rigour for young women too. That means there was heavy drinking from both sexes as no one was applying the brakes (everyone knows that sober people find drunk people annoying so any guy trying to chat up a girl had to curb his enthusiasm for the grape and grain beforehand).

Wine is drunk in far less quantities than the UK, at least in the farming communities I’ve come to know in the north.

My liver will like me and, you never know, I might finally start to act like a lady after all these years.


You don’t have to be embarassed of religion in France. Despite it being a secular imageculture Catholicism is still permeating everyday life. You go to the local bakers and there are little cake toppers signifying children taking their holy communion.

In the hyper markets there are the robes worn at confirmation on display for sale.

As you walk down the lanes there are nooks dedicated to Jesus, Mary or other saints.

You drive through areas and see not only churches but Calvary crosses on the highways.

I love that. I feel like I truly am about to come home to the ‘older sister of the church’.